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Backpacks and coats hang on a row of hooks.
The Calhan School District school serves upward of 400 preschool to 12th grade students. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

About 3,774 Colorado 4-year-olds, or about 13% the kids who are in the process of enrolling in the state’s newly expanded preschool program, are eligible for up to 30 hours of preschool instruction per week starting this fall, the maximum benefit the state will offer families, according to initial figures the Colorado Department of Early Childhood released Thursday to The Colorado Sun.

Preschool providers have been waiting for the number in order to configure their classes and staffing before school starts next month.

All Colorado children are guaranteed 15 hours each week of free preschool in the year before they enter kindergarten under the state’s expanded preschool program, which is known as universal preschool and will start next month. The state will operate the first year of the program with $322 million generated by a tax increase on tobacco and nicotine products approved by voters in November 2020.

However, Colorado kids whose family circumstances make it more challenging for them to be fully prepared to start kindergarten are eligible to receive 15 additional hours of preschool each week subsidized by the state — 30 hours total. That includes kids who are homeless, are learning English, live in foster care, have a disability or live in a low-income household — each of which CDEC calls a “qualifying factor.” The state will provide those extra hours of preschool to children whose families are living in poverty and who face at least one more qualifying factor, following state statute.

Additionally, kids who have a disability but no other qualifying factor can get 30 hours of free preschool each week if their individualized education program plan — which details the kinds of educational services the student needs and lays out academic goals — requires them to be enrolled in more than 15 hours of preschool each week, CDEC spokesperson Hope Shuler wrote in an email.

The state does not yet know how many of those kids with a disability need 30 hours of preschool a week, Shuler said.

The number of students participating in the preschool program continues to fluctuate as the state accepts new students on a rolling basis, and the number of children who are eligible for more than 15 hours of preschool a week remains in a state of flux and will likely increase, Shuler said. CDEC has so far completed four rounds of applications and matched families from each round to preschools. Families matched in the latest round have to accept their match by Aug. 2. Once a family is matched to a preschool provider, they can accept that match and then enroll their child.

Preschoolers Laylamarie Larson, left, and Kinley Palmer play together during a morning class at Early Connections Learning Center in Colorado Springs Friday, July 30, 2021. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“It’s a moving number, so it’s really hard,” Shuler said.

As of Thursday, families of more than 30,300 Colorado kids had accepted a match with a preschool provider participating in the new state program. That’s close to half of the nearly 63,200 4-year-olds in Colorado, according to projections from state demographer Elizabeth Garner. Nearly 9,100 kids’ families have taken the step of enrolling their child after being matched.


Of the children who have accepted a match, 3,774 kids live in a low-income family and have another qualifying factor, guaranteeing them 30 hours of preschool each week. Some of those children have already enrolled in a preschool program they were previously matched with but may have only enrolled in 15 hours per week before the state confirmed they were eligible for an additional 15 hours. That means they will have to work with their preschool program to see if that program has capacity to instruct them for another 15 hours, Shuler said. 

As the state continues accepting new preschoolers, it will keep offering 30 hours of weekly preschool to those who are low-income and struggle with another qualifying factor, she added.

“Although we will regularly assess our financial performance to ensure we do not overdraw from our appropriation,” Shuler wrote.

CLARIFICATION: This story was changed Monday, July 24, 2023 at 10:18 a.m. to clarify that a full week of preschool instruction translates to 30 hours.